Feb 6, 2015

Operation Liberation Leftovers: Vieux Léon


If the purpose of living abroad and immersing ourselves in French society is for cultural exchange and enrichment, then I think I can be proud of not only what our family is gaining, but also what we are leaving behind. I call it Operation Liberation Leftovers: I have freed my friend from the tyranny of preparing a four-course meal.

When the girls and I go to stay with my friend Béatrice and her kids, she make us a nice dinner on our first night. The next day, we spend most of our time playing at the beach. She goes to start making a big, French-style, main-meal-of-the-day lunch for us all, and I stop her: "You know, there's cold chicken and leftover pasta from last night." I root through the fridge. "We could chop up raw veggies, and voilà! The kids will love it."

She looks at me questioningly. It's true that neither of the husbands are there (both working, in Paris, while we are in the country). "It really wouldn't insult you?," she asks me. Insult me? I love leftovers. I live for leftovers. Leftovers are like a present from heaven -- homemade food that you don't actually have to make, because you already made it. Especially in the summer. Especially with kids. Let's clear out that fridge! No waste! It's economical, ecological, and labor-saving. What's not to love?!

And so begins a tradition. When we are together, without husbands, and just throwing together a casual meal for ourselves and our children, we generally go with the simplest option possible -- leftovers, all put on the table at once and served together, American-style. But I'm so proud to learn that it's not just when the Americans are there. She sees me at school drop off the other day and says, "I have to thank you again for showing me about meals made of leftovers!" Years later, she still relishes each meal she serves without cooking, when her husband doesn't make it home for dinner.

But she is still obviously more French than I am, because I'll even do that when my husband does join us for dinner, as long as there are enough leftovers to use up. The only way I could improve upon this would be if I could figure out how to not even have to cook it the first time.

THE CHEESE: Vieux Léon

Vieux Léon is a cheese made from cooked -- but not pasteurized -- cows' milk that is pressed and aged many months into a hard cheese in Franche-Comté. It does not have salt added to it, and the result it a fairly classic, but mild, version of a mountain cow cheese. The crust is technically edible, but only if you have the teeth and jaws of a lion.

That means it's both firm and creamy, with hints of sweet nuttiness. It's not terribly exciting, but the kids accept it as a lesser Comté substitute since I refuse to buy Comté for each and every cheese platter (the down-side of trying to eat my way through 500+ French cheeses). The kids enjoy the Vieux Léon, ultimately, melted on a grilled ham & cheese sandwich, whereas they wouldn't say the same about some of the other odd cheese leftover nubbins I try to fob off on them (a recent attempt at a grilled cheese sandwich made with a particularly stinky sheep cheese comes to mind).


This Léon is old -- it says so right there in the name -- just like the leftovers I encourage my friend to serve to her children. In fact, since it's not the most exciting cheese on a huge party platter, it really does get old in our fridge and gets served, and re-served, and re-served again as leftovers.


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